Ulku Ferah Yelbaşı, Director of SU Business Consultancy Ltd, reports on the third Leadership Talks with Future Professionals.
It may not be fair to call my guest, Derin Koçer, a “future professional” just because he is a university student. He is, in fact, a student and a young professional!
Derin Kocer works as a campaigner and communication strategist for various political organizations and non-profits, both within House of Impact’s capacity and as a freelancer. His articles on politics, culture, and international affairs are getting published on national Turkish newspapers like Karar, Oksijen, and T24. He was one of the first writers of Daktilo1984 and his political commentary on British politics appear at Medyascope and Aposto! He is also a student of War Studies at King’s College London.
Thank you Derin for answering my questions. Your answers as well as the way you own what you do, the way you express your thoughts make me proud! We all have a lot to learn from brilliant young minds as yourself.
What does the concept of leadership mean to you?
Leadership, in my opinion, should mainly be associated with vision and strategy: Without a clear and original vision for a company or a political establishment, the ‘leader’ cannot build a team that will follow him to unchartered waters – he can only be a manager that implements others’ vision. However, a vision is not enough to create meaningful change – that requires a sharp strategic mindset and the energy to implement it. It’s not enough to be the one or the other to become a leader – both qualities are required.
How would you compare a leader and a manager? Should a manager always be a “leader”?
As I said before, a ‘manager’ serves a vision which should not necessarily be his/her own and that makes the whole distinction. A great manager can be really successful with building a team or running an organization – but this doesn’t make her irreplaceable. But a leader’s vision makes all the difference: It determines what the company/NGO etc stands for, and what difference it will make.
Which one would be more effective for a successful business and talent management, a dictating leadership or empathetic leadership? How?
It almost certainly depends on the context: For instance, in the creative industries, it would be quite difficult to work with a dictating leadership which may not give any space for original thinking but only determines goals and deadlines. It won’t serve the creatives well – and it will definitely cause damage to the organization in the long run. However, it can also not be forgotten that some deadlines should be met: So, if an empathetic leadership goes to the extremes and makes the employees forget the chores they face, this will be a losing hand too. For that reason, effective leadership requires the intellectual capacity to know when to be though and when to create space. Choosing one will most certainly damage something in the long run.
What kind of workplace would you like to work at by means of management approaches, what they offer to the employee etc.
I consider myself a creative and hardworking person. So, I would need the space for original thoughts to prevail. However, a too-relaxed environment will not be optimal either: We shouldn’t forget that even Dostoyevsky needed to meet deadlines for his book. A healthy pressure does not have to demolish original thinking, it might actually empower it. That’s why, in my opinion, the optimal workplace should understand the balance that needs to be kept.
How important is mental health in a workplace?
This is probably one of the most crucial areas that employers don’t focus much on. And the reason behind this should not necessarily be the underlying cruelty but the fact that mental illnesses remain taboos for many people. However, as former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s communications chief Alastair Campbell, who suffers from depression, explains in Living Better, everyone needs to -at least- try to understand what others may be going through. Because most of the mental difficulties are not about the person’s resilience or character, it is simply about how they are wired. And an employer who chooses not to understand, who doesn’t put the effort into it, will most definitely cause harm at some level. And, to be honest, it will certainly not be worth it for the one who suffers.
How would you react if you are bullied, overstressed by your colleagues and/or superiors, when your knowledge, abilities and work are not acknowledged?
Well, the best option is to leave. It is not only the bullying or other unethical behaviour in the workplace, but also the unappreciation may become intolerable after a certain point. It may cause some kind of defeatism and underperformance as well. All this makes an unhealthy environment which I would spend most of my time in. Well, no one willingly moves into a prison, right? But to be fair, this may not always be possible for everyone or for myself. So, the preferable option may be to fight the fight. To do so, one should definitely form a good relationship with the leadership team that will make them listen. Secondly, one should be able to show how well they are objectively performing and should be able to provide a convincing argument to them.
How should a leader’s approach should be about mental health at work?
There are two sides to this: First, it is clear that everyone’s mental health affects their quality of life. An unhappy, depressing life is not the option we would choose. And quite basic empathy reveals that. So, for the sake of humanity, leaders need to understand how important mental health is. Secondly, it also clear that psychology directly influences performance. In a productive workplace, people should experience some kind of belonging. This cannot be built without ignoring people’s mental health. So, it is both in the interest of leaders’ conscience and in the interest of the company to understand how well people are doing.
How do you think the education system and the business world should evolve, especially considering Covid 19 era?
The major shift, I believe, is not caused by the pandemic but by how the economy is transforming (which Covid-19 seems to have accelerated the transformation): With the new technologies, some key jobs of the past century like engineering or law, which made decent livings for millions of people, are going through massive change. Nowadays, not everyone should walk into a law office to get the consultation they need – they simply go online and find a much cheaper service. Or the coding skills that we seemed to religiously believe was the future are not a necessity to build great products -- much simple tools are being made. The key is: Everything is changing in high speed. The education system and the business world should stop being afraid of it and should start embracing it. For instance, educating children with those conventional skills will probably mean nothing for most in a decade or so. Although it is quite difficult to guess what the future of work will be, it is easy to understand that expandable talents need to be built and curious children need to be raised. Only one’s hunger for change and new information can be the optimal skillset for the uncertain tomorrow. We better be prepared for it.